Yetley: Diversity is less important than ability in politics

Claire Yetley

Last week, the Daily published an article about women in politics. The Huffington Post also recently did a similar article. Most of the hype about women in politics began last November during the most recent presidential election. It is an important topic today because as new students leave their parent’s political influences behind and start to form new identities, the way they vote is subject to change.

It’s great journalists are bringing attention to the issues women face in politics. However, it’s important not to forget that whomever we as voters elect to a legislative or executive position must be, above all else, the absolute best person for the job.

Women, as well as most minorities, are underrepresented in our government. Only 17 percent of Congress, 22 percent of statewide elective executive position and 24 percent of state legislature positions are filled by women across the country. The United States is ranked 90th in the world for having women equally represented in their government. For a country that espouses equality, 90th isn’t a ranking worth celebrating.

Women who are in politics have a dilemma to face each day: Do they play the game and act like “one of the boys” or do they stand up and challenge the status quo? Women who act in politics not only have the quick, on-your-feet qualities of a politician but also the strength and humility of a devoted activist of women’s rights. Do female politics take the stances of their parties or of their gender? Women are faced by additional choices such as these.

Clearly we’re failing to accurately represent our nation in politics, but voting for a candidate based on their gender or race is failing to understand their political platform. Candidates’ sex or race may influence their platform, but to simply assume, for example, they will vote pro-abortion rights because they are women is stereotyping all women. This assumption is just as bad as not voting for a candidate because of misunderstanding his or her platform.

Our nation’s government was meant to be diverse. Don’t believe me? Pull out a dollar bill. Look at the back. The seal of our United States has the phrase, “E pluribus unum” on it. This translates to “out of many, one.” Meaning we need the many so that we can be one nation; without that diversity, we do not exist. “Many” does not just mean a big number of people who all have the same ideologies. Many is meant to be a variety of different ideas and backgrounds. This builds perspective and strengthens arguments against what will eventually be found the right answer.

Of course being of a different gender or sex will bring a different background and different perspective, but we need to make sure the candidate understands the issues at hand. Generally being a woman means one will understand the issues women face in our society. But what if they don’t? What about other women who interpret the needs of women differently?

What those issues are and who represents those issues isn’t my point. It is that voters should not be blinded by the gender issue. The content of the candidate’s platform, and how well they will support it, is and always should be the most important factor when choosing a representative of the people.

Promoting a candidate simply based on their gender undermines their ability to act politically at a similar or higher level than their peers. The press or media in general will often focus on asking questions such as, “What is it like to be a woman in your position?” This ignores the representative stance on issues or what actions they have taken recently to promote a bill. If men are not asked, “What is it like to be a man in politics?” then women shouldn’t be asked this either.

The candidate’s actual strengths, abilities and potential legislation changes should be what are important. The way equal representation affects society is very important, but in the end, it should come down to a candidate’s abilities.